Keep Calm and Carry On - The Future of Entertainment Will Still Be Televised

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By Philip O'Ferrall, Head of Viacom Velocity International, Senior Vice President

The growth in the quantity of video being watched on social platforms like Facebook and YouTube via smartphones and tablets was a theme much discussed at Advertising Week Europe last week.

The sharp increase in multi-screen viewing via digital native platforms is undeniable, but the growth in associated digital advertising revenues has not kept pace. The Financial Times recently reported that Buzzfeed has halved its revenue forecasts for 2016. YouTube has become increasingly aggressive in its calls for advertisers to move more of their money out of television and onto its video platform.

Advertisers and media agencies seemingly remain skeptical about the relative value of viewing video online compared to watching television. From the advertisers’ perspective all views are not created equal. Counting up video streams online daily may produce impressive numbers, but it tells you nothing about audience engagement, including time spent viewing.

Viacom, with its young-skewing brands – including Comedy Central, MTV and Nickelodeon – has a front row seat in this evolution of viewing habits and understands the growing appeal of on-demand, on-the-go viewing. In response, we aim to make the $4BN worth of high quality video content we commission each year available on every platform and every device that our young audiences expect to find it. Our argument to advertisers is that new forms of viewing should be regarded as complementary to live TV viewing, rather than substitutional.

One of the best examples of the virtuous circle between TV, digital and social is MTV’s Geordie Shore, a reality series following the lives and libidos of a group of friends from Newcastle that celebrates its 5th birthday on air in May. Geordie Shore is a TV phenomenon – a TV show that is growing 16-34 viewing. The latest and 12th season has smashed all previous ratings records and is now the 2nd most popular show on pay TV in the UK amongst 16-34s, behind only Game of Thrones. But Geordie Shore is also a multi-platform, multi-screen juggernaut. One in five of its young fans are watching full length episodes via TV Everywhere apps, such as Sky Go, on their mobile. And the show has more than 30M fans and followers on social media, consuming a vast amount of supplementary, behind-the-scenes video content that binds them even more closely to the cast of characters and drives greater TV viewing in turn.

MTV has employed this 360° content model widely. It is helping drive massive growth in cross-platform viewing for key properties, like the MTV VMAs, which delivered 73M video views across all platforms last year, whilst driving huge engagement on social platforms, such as Snapchat Discover, where MTV’s content has been ‘viewed’ more than 3BN times internationally since launch. With Comedy Central also launched globally on the platform, Snapchat and Viacom recently announced an advertising partnership, underlining their complementarity.

Many digital native publishers are striving to develop this same 360° content model. Vice is rolling out a cable TV channel Viceland, while Mashable is using an investment from Turner to re-orient towards TV content. Vox Media has launched a Hollywood-based division to bring its brands to linear TV platforms, and BuzzFeed is leveraging its new ties with NBCUniversal. 

Competition for eyeballs between platforms may be fierce but there are also many more eyeballs to compete for as viewers spend more time watching video on air and online. The significant majority of that viewing time is still spent with the large, flat screen in the corner of the living room. TV retains an unrivalled ability to create characters and storylines that will drive the sort of deep engagement with audiences – now across multiple media platforms – that advertisers remain eager to buy into.